Vail Resorts’ US skier visits up 12.5% over last year, company reports

Expecting even higher numbers, company says airline disruptions negatively impacted visitation

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Crowds line up at the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Vail on Dec. 28. Vail Resorts reported a 12.5% increase in skier visits this season over last season through Jan. 8.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Coming off the busiest season in U.S. history, Vail Resorts reported Wednesday that the current season is starting off even busier at its 37 North American ski areas.

Vail Resorts, in an annual early season update to investors, said skier visits to its North American properties are up 12.5% this season through Jan. 8, as compared to the 2021-22 season.

Despite the growth, the numbers were not up to the level the company was hoping to see over the holidays, CEO Kirstin Lynch said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“Season-to-date destination guest visitation at our western U.S. resorts was below our expectations, which we believe was negatively impacted by the extreme weather causing resort closures and the airline disruptions that impacted travel across the U.S. during the peak holiday period,” Lynch said.

On Vail Mountain, the company’s namesake property, much more snow fell in November and December of 2022 than 2021, allowing for more terrain openings. The lifts accessing that terrain were operating during the holidays this season, as well, unlike last season which saw some lifts unable to operate due to low staffing on the mountain.

As of Jan. 8, Vail Mountain had received about 40 inches more snow than the mountain had recorded at that time in the 2021-22 season.

The company attributed this year’s growth in visitation not only to good snow conditions during November and December, but poor snow conditions during the same period last year, among other factors.

“Results season to date for the 2022/2023 North American ski season outperformed results from the comparable prior year period, which were negatively impacted by challenging early season conditions, elevated COVID-19 cases associated with the Omicron variant and staffing-driven capacity constraints in our ancillary businesses,” Lynch said. “Improved conditions at our Colorado, Utah and Tahoe resorts drove a strong rebound in local guest visitation and the easing of travel restrictions in Canada contributed to a strong rebound in destination visitation at Whistler Blackcomb relative to the prior year period.”

The company reported a large jump in revenue for ski school and dining operations, which weren’t fully staffed at Vail Resorts’ properties last season. Lynch said increased staffing levels relative to the prior year period enabled Vail Resorts to deliver full operations this holiday season.

The return of normal operations to guest services experiences “helped drive a return of ancillary spending,” Lynch said.

Season-to-date retail/rental revenue is up 34.4%, ski school revenue is up 35.6%, and dining revenue is up 58% compared to the prior year’s season-to-date period, Vail Resorts reported.

But season-to-date total lift ticket revenue was only up 5.3% compared to the prior year’s season-to-date period, something noticed by investors.

Citing predictions from consumer sector estimates firm Consensus Metrix, Vail Resorts analyst Patrick Scholes with Truist Financial said lift ticket revenues were originally projected to be more than double what Vail Resorts reported on Wednesday.

“The bad news is that lift ticket revenues of +5.3% were below Street expectations of +13.6%, resulting in Resort Reported EBITDA for fiscal 2023 to now be in the lower-half of the previously guided range,” Scholes said in a report issued Wednesday.

Lynch said she expects the company to recoup some of those profits later in the season.

“Based on our significant base of pre-committed guests through advance commitment pass products, strong conditions across our western resorts, and current lodging booking trends, we believe that a portion of the visitation we originally expected over the holiday period will occur later in the season,” Lynch said Wednesday. “As a result of all these factors, we now expect that Resort Reported EBITDA for fiscal year 2023 will be in the lower half of the guidance range issued on September 28, 2022.”

In an opinion released Wednesday, Vail Resorts analyst Jeff Stantial with Stifel Financial said he agrees that the late season of 2022-23 could see strong visitation numbers, as Lynch predicted.

“While visitation disruptions were fairly well covered in the media, we believe investors generally called for solid visitation trends given historically strong early season conditions across most major destination ski regions,” Stantial said. “Hence, we wouldn’t be surprised to see shares underperform modestly today. However, based on historical trends (e.g. 2018/19), we could see visitation rebound healthily late-season (especially in light of continued strong conditions) suggesting any weakness in the shares will likely prove short-lived. Hence, we reiterate our Hold-rating as we continue to wait for a more attractive entry point.”

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